01 Castro Arévaco
02 Corona De Moncayo
04 Bajo la Sombra del Buitre
05 Humo Y Llama
06 Numancia Invicta
Arnica’s 2010 Ahnstern release ‘Numancia’ explores the siege capitulating twenty year’s war on a second century BCE heathen community in northern Spain by the Romans that ended with the steadfast residents choosing to surrender to the freedom of mass death at their own hands rather than succumb to the inevitable slavery of their bodies and minds by their oppressors. Arnica look deep into the history of their region and channel their findings back across the centuries to listeners with fine performances using traditional instrumentation and an expansive campesino style that despite a language barrier communicate to me intuitively the power of culture, spirituality and place and the depths a people can go to protect these things from outside control.
Album opener ‘Castro Arevaco’ begins with the sounds of shovels hitting gravel, swords clashing and footsteps advancing, helping settle our ears in multiple dimensions so we can discern the thread running between the ancient ruins left at Castro Arevaco today and the distant time ago when it was a community struggling to protect the land they had worked their entire lives from the dominion of tyrannical outsiders. These sounds of life and work are soon joined by a falling guitar pattern, droning accordion and a plain recurrent folk melody in recorder. A solemn man’s voice leads a reverent men’s chorus and they are soon joined by the chanter and refrain of a Spanish bagpipe. I envision the strong and the smart banding together in a communal space to work out ways to preserve their future. The sound of rain bridges the assembly of men into the sage oration of a commanding woman accompanied by a pensive flute that opens ‘Corona De Moncayo.’ The meditative view of three peaked Moncayo Massif in Aragon is abruptly broken by the urgency of field percussion and flute driving through. Hearty mens voices call and back and forth to keep rhythm and coordination in their minds and movements. After time the forward progress is pulled to rest by a lullabye. Rain pulls us through the brief night to dawn and the ‘Asedio.’ Haunted dissonant fog blurs the way while a frantic baton struggles to keep everyone on edge. Words of courage are imparted softly over the crowd as they gear to head into unknown territory.
‘Bajo la Sombra del Buitre’ lends a brief moment of breath control to move collective attention out of the vanitas of spiritual defeat and focus on working in tandem towards victorious sacrifice. Long tones are resonated as a group until they evolve into monophonic chant as we enter the ‘Humo y Llama’ together. The ethereal weapons are unleashed as an entire population sublimates into the heavens as one. The military band marching together and singing in unison modulates into a higher key and merges with the music of the spheres leaving the material war between consonance and dissonance behind to enter the celestial realm of perfect harmony. I spent several perplexed hours attempting to translate by ear the words of this song from Spanish into English with the help of a couple of dictionaries, the longer and harder I looked, the more I saw, until it was nearing sensory overload. Inside, my mind had something of a cleansed feeling, not as if it had been emptied, but as if more space had been opened. ‘Humo y Llamas’ is a masterful and rewarding example of visionary music.
Following that warhorse the listener is given a few minutes of decompression in ‘Invicta Numancia’ to bring their thoughts back down to earth from the ultrasonic spectrum and shift back to the familiar lower frequencies of this world. ‘Deiuoreigis’ ends the album with the brief spectral and distorted voice of a woman singing accompanied by static interference trying to break up the transmission.